On this week’s instalment of ‘memo to the executives’, let us throw a pitch at the potential fourth outing for Jason Bourne. The Bourne series has been one of those rare film series that maintained a high level of quality through a trilogy of movies, which has endeared it to myself and countless spy/action/adventure junkies around the world. But while another outing for James Bond is always certain, and Jack Ryan now finally appears to be returning to the silver screen, Bourne part 4 still continues to be in limbo. We have no real concrete evidence that a script is being written and director Paul Greengrass and star Matt Damon continue to vaguely allude that they might be interested in doing it.
I am personally very much game for another Bourne film for several reasons. Firstly, this is not a situation where we are waiting anxiously for the final chapter of the story, desperate for the loose ends to be tied up. If a fourth film failed to match the quality of its predecessors, the trilogy would still stand undamaged and we can pretend another one never happened (kinda how I look at Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). Secondly, I am not one of those people who believes if you love spy movies, you can only love either Bond or Bourne. They are completely different animals, I love each one and there is plenty of room in multiplexes for both (though if the franchises ever went head to head in the same release season, it would be something to see). Thirdly, though Robert Ludlum wrote the three Bourne books that were adapted into films, Eric Van Lustbader has written four more with a fifth currently being worked on; The Bourne Legacy, The Bourne Betrayal, The Bourne Sanction and The Bourne Deception. I don’t think the later books give the filmmakers story ideas to mine (the films were never really adaptations of the books anyhow) but it does give them a few titles they can use.
Finally, I did feel that the ending of The Bourne Ultimatum was slightly anti-climatic. I understand that seeing Bourne floating in the sea was meant to mirror the opening scene of the first film but just felt that, given this was the grand finale of essentially a three movie story arc, we deserved more closure. I do care about this character and I want to know where he is going next. Bourne’s life, even when he was in control of it, has been defined by relentless death and destruction. You just can’t just switch that off, even if you walk away. Is he trying to live that life of seclusion and isolation again, only this time without someone to share it with given that his girlfriend Marie was murdered? Will that satisfy him? Is he still plagued by flashbacks, visions and nightmares? Does Bourne even really remember everything? Can he finally live a life as David Webb, his supposed true name? These are unresolved questions left from the trilogy.
Rather than simply have Bourne recruited back into service to stop some terrorist plot which only he can deal with akin to a Rambo movie, I’d like to see a certain amount of mystery built up in the first act. As the new film opens, we see news reports on a series of murders that have been occurring across Europe; a few dead policemen on a sidewalk, a few dead guards at an embassy, a few dead tourists in a park, from Switzerland to Germany to France. What links the killings is they appear to have been perpetrated by a man answering to the name of Jason Bourne. We of course, and the CIA, recognise the trail that is being blazed across Europe as the same journey David Webb took in the first film to regain his memory. Is Webb trying to create more bad press for the CIA? Is he sending them a message to come back after him? Has he had a complete breakdown (plausible as he has not been seen since he encountered Dr Albert Hirsch at the Treadstone facility in New York)? Or is the CIA’s doing, having someone imitate Bourne in the hope of flushing him out of his hiding spot?
For much of the first act of the film we wouldn’t know. We don’t see this Bourne the news describes and we don’t see David Webb either, leaving us unsure as to what is going on and putting us into the mindset of the one character who is determined to find out the truth, Nicky Parsons (Julie Stiles). You may remember the scene between Bourne and Nicky in the café in the third film where he asked her why she was helping him. Nicky replies “It was difficult... for me... with you. You really don't remember, do you?”. Obviously this implies a past relationship between the two characters which she clearly hasn’t forgotten about or repressed.
So Nicky sets out to locate Bourne/David Webb and we follow the first part of the story through her perspective as she searches for him and the manhunt beings once again. We don‘t know where Bourne is. We don‘t know where we‘re headed. We are hooked. It’s a risky move as I’m sure plenty of people in the audience would rather we get straight to the Matt Damon shaky-cam ass kicking but I think it makes more sense to shake things up and defy expectations. You only have to look at franchise statistics of the past to see that if a film series doesn’t jump the shark by the second or the third movie, the fourth will almost certainly be a disaster of epic proportions (yes don’t wave exceptions in my face, I know Rocky IV and Star Trek IV are awesome). This is because these kinds of films are built on a certain set of rules, a certain style of filmmaking and a central character that can only develop so much and by a fourth film you are almost certainly going to be out of tricks. The Bourne Ultimatum, good film though it was, spent a good portion of its running time paying homage to events from the previous two movies. Even though it was intentional, it left me with the feeling that the fourth outing would really have to be something different to work.
Mainly, I’d like to see a film where Bourne faces off against a singular adversary in a personal way. Though there have been assassins chasing after him in all three films and Karl Urban’s character in the second one had some small edge to him having killed Marie, the baddies have mostly consisted of various corrupt or misguided American intelligence operatives. Once Nicky tracks Bourne/David down, she realises that of course he isn’t this killer that shares the name but he is aware of what’s going on and convinced that whatever the reason for this copycat, the best thing to do is stay hidden and ride it out.
As much as he doesn’t want to listen, Nicky convinces him that he won’t have a life as long as the Bourne legacy is one of senseless death and David Webb isn’t going to exist until Jason Bourne is put down for good. So they head off on the trail of the killer, retracing Bourne’s steps from the first film since that is the pattern he seems to be following and finally able to be one step ahead. When they finally confront the killer, they soon realise the shocking truth……
The killer is the real Jason Bourne.
We were told quite clearly that Jason Bourne is a code name that was given to David Webb but where did it come from? You don’t just pluck a name like that out of thin air. I think it would really shake things up to discover that the code name actually comes from a real undercover CIA operative, very similar in training and resilience to David Webb, who was supposedly killed in action a decade ago. The real Bourne was the best covert operative they had and after his untimely demise, the more unscrupulous elements in the agency felt the need to find an effective way to duplicate that level of agent; hence the beginnings of the Treadstone project.
But now the real Bourne is back from a very long sleep, completely out of synch with reality or sanity; a deadly living weapon trained to kill anything in his path and seeing nothing but enemies everywhere. Having followed the breadcrumb trail that was left for him to get back in contact with his superiors, he is starting to piece his memory back together but the appearance of David Webb changes everything. Not only is the real Bourne alone, half dead and partially sociopathic, but now he finds that somebody else has taken his name, his identity and his life. The real Bourne has been forgotten and forsaken.
David Webb tries to convince Bourne that he doesn’t want that life; he can keep it. But Bourne sees no choice but to kill David to take back his life and thus begins the fight that will be the hook of the film. It’s Bourne vs. Bourne. I am sure you’re all thinking of images in ‘Face/Off’ or ‘Total Recall’ as you read this but I’m obviously not saying that Matt Damon would be playing both parts. There is no outlandish cloning or elaborate plastic surgery going on here. You just need to get a really great chameleon character actor who can play the wide range of emotions that the real Bourne will have to go through without just coming off as some whacked out loony. It has become a running joke between Jamie and myself on our podcast that we want James Marsden to be in everything but I think he would be perfect for this part. I also thought he would be perfect to play Jack Ryan in the next film outing for that character but that’s clearly not going to happen so either let him play the baddie in that movie or in this one.
When all is said and done, this isn’t just a gimmick or marketing hook for a fourth film. There are themes to be played out here; material that will bring Matt Damon’s character full circle. By going head to head against the real Jason Bourne, David Webb is deciding how the rest of his life is going to play out. He can either submit and die now, content that he died as the man whose memories he had been chasing all this time. Or he can fight back and in defeating his opponent, will fully assume the mantle of Jason Bourne once and for all.
To bottom line it, either Matt Damon gets a great death scene and a new actor gets to continue in any future instalments (with the torch having been passed) or it is the real Bourne who dies and Damon returns to the CIA of his own free will, accepting that David Webb is truly no more. From now on, he will only ever be Jason Bourne and gears up for any future films. Either way, I think Bourne 4 could work as a final send off or as the start of a new line of sequels to go up against the Bond films.
But who cares what I think? What do you think?